(Diarist Note: Little late on this one, but listeners of the MGoPodcast will be familiar with the leans as we talked about them then. Also: Check out the Just Cover Blog later this morning as their will be a couple posts before kickoffs at noon, including a special guest appearance from a local parlay guru.)
Happy Halloween, everyone!!! What are you going to be dressed up as? Me? My costume is all set. I'm dressed up as a Chalk Eating Mother Fucker this week. I know, I know, you wont recognize me as usally I have my money wagon hitched and locked in on underdogs. But, hey, it's not Halloween if you dont change idtenties for at least one day. Man, looking at myself in the mirror, this is a pretty scary costume. Hopefully, I wont scare any gambling karma away.
We're standing solid with a 26-19-1 record with four weeks to go. Let's do this, people. And, if chalk makes you quesy, then maybe this Diary is not for you.
Indiana at Iowa, noon, ESPN. Lines, Iowa -17, O/U 47
I hinted at it in the MGoPodcast, but this Iowa team is beginning to remind me a whole lot of the 1997 Michigan and 2002 Ohio State teams. Big 10 historians know the significance of those teams.
Now, this does not mean I feel the 2009 Hawkeyes are as good. Hardly. There is no transcendent player like Charles Woodsoon on the field for Iowa. There is no game changer like Maurice Clarett on offense.
But, both those clubs and this year's Iowa club seem to share the same mentality about how to manage games and play mean, physical football. Like those past teams, this year's Iowa team seems both charmed and comfortable playing in tight, defensive games. The championship teams had no panic when falling behind in a game. Iowa not only has no problem playing from behind, but almost seem to prefer it the way their defense amps up once they've spotted some points. Like those teams, nobody gave Iowa a chance at any bigtime postseason honors, but when the final month rolls around, they're one of the few unbeatens left. Neither of those past teams played pretty ball, preferring instead to punch you in the face, turn the game into a brawl and let their no frills, efficient offense do enough to win games. Does that sound familir, Iowa fans?
The 1997 Michigan and 2002 OSU teams fascinated me each week those seasons with how they found a way to win each week. For the last six weeks I have been just as fascinated by this Iowa team. I love this team. A lot. I have no problem predicting them to run the table through the end of the regular season. But, there chances too a big hit this week as some serious injuries hit the Hawkeyes. A rash of injuries is one thing neither of those classic Big 10 clubs had to deal with. But, I think Iowa takes a strong first step towards that goal with a three-touchdown win over Indiana tomorrow afternoon in Iowa City.
As mentioned, Iowa enters this game pretty banged up, with RB Aaron Robinson and OL Dace Richardson both out for the rest of the regular season. Robinson had been a steady replacement to all-everything Shonn Green and Richardson, finally living up to his recruiting hype, had been plowing people over all season. Trying to overcome those issues might keep this game close at the start, but in the end I think the Hawkeyes lay the wood to Indiana.
The Hoosiers have looked solid on offense at times this year. But, the one time they played a dominant defense--Ohio State--they had problems doing anything. Expect the same against Iowa. The Hawkeyes just make other QBs look bad and I dont think Ben Chappell escapes with his game intact. The Hoosiers have been good at not turning the ball over this year, but I think they will face more pressure tomorrow than ever before this season causing some giveaways. Their O-Line is big, but I dont think they contain Iowa's defensive line, which I think is the single most dominant positional unit in the Big 10 this season.
Indiana does have some recent success against Iowa, beating them twice during the lull period in Ferentz's tenure. But, the Hawks got their mojo back last year and promptly rolled the Hoosiers 45-9. This year, Iowa is better and playing at home.
The Pick: Iowa -17.......Under Ferentz, the Hawks are 38-21-1 ATS at home. We'll take our chances with those numbers.
Penn State at Northwestern, 4:00, ESPN. Lines, PSU -16, O/U 47
This will be another blowout. Nobody has been scoring on Penn State all season long. Say what you will about the level of their OOC competition during the season's opening leg, but they've given up just 10 points in the last two weeks against Big 10 teams. Defensively, they have really allowed only four touchdowns in non garbage time all season. I cant help but think another systematic dismantling will happen this weekend in Evanston. It will look exactly like PSU's last two games.
I like the game of Wildcat QB Mike Kafka. He can move the team down the field, but he's also been turnover prone. I dont know if the Cats have enough weapons to keep drives moving against Penn State. Drives will be killed off by Kafka picks. Kafka is bucking for a spot somewhere on an all-league team, and I think how he fares against the PSU defense is one of the key matchups tomorrow across the Big 10 schedule. I like his chances to get some things done early in this contest. In the will get knocked around a ton and have much trouble finding the end zone as Minnesota and Michigan did. He will, however, have as easy a time finding Navarro Bowmann as the LOLphers and Wolverines did.
PSU has been sneaking around in the weeds all season, listening to people disrespect them on account of their schedule. Watching them the last two weeks, they seem to have turned it up a notch in attempt to quiet critics. Like me. I am not 100 percent sold, but I do submit the following as truth: They are playing better football now than they were at the end of September when Iowa beat them.
I have ragged on Clark, but, man, did he throw well last week. He'll have another solid game against Northwestern. The Wildcats are banged up in the secondary with S Brendan Smith and CB Sherrick McManus nursing injuries and not 100 percent. That does not bode well for NW. PSU and Clark have been hot lately with 5 TD passes, no picks and 230 yards on average through the air in their three October big 10 games. I expect him to add to those numbers without much in the way of negative stats. Also, Evan Royster will go for 150 total yards and score twice. They will be +2 in TOs. They will romp.
The Pick: Penn State -16.....Do you like trends? If so, then try these numbers on for size: PSU is 15-4 ATS in October and 5-0-1 as double digit road chalk. Meanwhile, the Wildcats struggle when times are good as their 16-34-1 ATS record following a win would attest. Worried about a look ahead to next week's game with OSU? Maybe. But, the defensive front seven should really knock around the Wildcat offense way too much for it to be effective. If you like totals, this could be an Under game. I see Penn State winning 30-7 in a workmanlike performance.
Purdue at Wisconsin, noon, ESPN2. Lines, Wisco -7.5, O/U 53
This will be the most exciting Big 10 game of the day, not involving Michigan of course.
I think Purdue might be the most improved team in the league from the perspective of what we expected back in August compared to what we know now. They have been in every single ball game this year, taking high octane teams like Oregon and Notre Dame down to the wire and famously upsetting Ohio State. Personally, I think they're primed to go on a late charge to a possible bowl game. They buried themselves with a 1-5 record, but the Boilers are way more equipped than, say for example, last year's UM squad that buried itself and didnt have the gas or personnel to go on a late season streak.
They will pull off the outright upset as long as the turnover battle is even. But, that's the problem with Purdue. As far as TOs go, they are as close to 2008 UM as we have in the league this season. Hard to imagine the active pass rush of Wisconsin not forcing a turnover or two. But, Purdue has a very solid front four and pass rush as well. Have you been noticing how Scott Tolzien has been faring when he was smacked in the mouth against OSU and Iowa. He became a INT machine. Now, Purude is no OSU or Iowa. Actually, they're better than OSU (Zing!). Seriously, I think they can do enough defensively to force turnovers and keep that TO margin even. The difference in this game is which all-league candidate pass rushed--Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan or Wisconsin's O'Brien Scholfied-creates more havoc in the backfield and forces more QB panic, indecision and giveaways
The Pick: Purdue +7.5.....I think this game, like most of Purdue's this season, will go down to the wire. I could see both teams scoring a lot of points too, so the over is worth a look. While I think we could see an upset here, I am sticking with my MGoPodcast call of a Wisco win, but Purdue cover.
Michigan State at Minnesote, 8:00, BTN. Lines, MSU -3, O/U 46
A lot of my analysis for this game begins and ends with the following sentence: Eric Decker is out for the rest of the season.
For Minnesota that translates into a big 'uh-oh.' We've seen that the Gophers have not improved at all on offense from last year. Despite more experience and some nice-looking, on paper at least, other playmakers, they have not evolved from their one-trick pony offense of Weber to Decker. Now, they will be forced to do so. If they cant pull it off with any sort of aplomb, then they're staring at a 4-8 record. Yes, that includes the South Dakota State game. If that happens, will Tim Brewster change coodinators again on both sides of the ball?
As for Michigan State, the season has been heartbreak city one after another. Four losses by a combined 19 points. To teams with a combined record of 25-5. So, to beat MSU this year, you had to be a really good team and still need some final minute magic to get it done. Ok. Well, Minnesots is not a good team. And, no last minute heroics will be available to them.
I like this MSU team. It might rub my fellow UM fans the wrong way, but the Spartans are good. And young. My only concern with them is their possible emotional fragility after ripping defeat from victory's hands last Saturday night. I think Dantonio has them focused, however. I think they rip the Gophers from start to finish. They bring so much more to the table than the Gohpers do. A better playing QB, a more established set of WRs to stretch the field, a competent running attack and a more physical defense.
The Spartans really remind me today of the program back in its Perles heyday of the late 1980s. Back then, MSU would put up 8-3 and 7-4 records virtually every year. All their losses, however, would be to high end teams, like Notre Dame, Miami, Michigan and USC teams that were in national contention. The program peaked in 1987 with a Big 10 title and Rose Bowl Championship spearheaded by the likes of Lorenzo White, Bobby McAllister, Andre Rison, Percy Snow and Tim Moore. Their OOC slate that September was USC, at Notre Dame, Florida State. Whoa.
While the Perles years never climbed those heights again, they remained a factor in just about every Big 10 race the rest of the way. A typical MSU season during that era would involve a heartbreaker to ND just as painful as UM's losses were to the Irish, one or two more close losses, a to-the-death Michigan game that could go either way, then a sprint to the end with a flurry of wins all culminating in an impressive performance in the Sun Bowl or something like that. From 1987-89 the winner of the MSU/UM game went to the Rose Bowl. You could make a case MSU was the #2 program in the Big 10 after Michigan during this time. They're sneaking their way back to the level. Look out.
They beat the Wolverines a lot. In the nine-year period from 1986-1993, MSU went 3-5 against Michigan, their best stretch against UM anytime during the last 40 years. Michigan also went 6-1-1 against Ohio State during that same stretch, won six Big 10 titles, four of them outright and won a pair of Rose Bowls. What was that you were saying about the programs cant ever be good at the same time? Frankly, I like a quality MSU program. I think he helps sharpen Michigan's edge and going through an intense hate week in the middle of the season gives the team invaluable experience when going through the hate week that really matters. That resume I ripped off above. None of it happens if Michigan's record is half as good as it was against OSU. The ends--a good MSU team--justify the means. Commence neg-banging.
The Pick: Michigan State -3 (-120).........I cant shake the feeling that MSU stands at the front end of one of those late 1980-like runs to close the season, beginning Saturday with a big win over a Gopher team thats heading in the wrong direction. If they pull off a late season streak, the Spartans could end the season with four straight wins to put themselves in the mix for a Jan. 1 bowl. Games against Purdue and Penn State to close November will serve, to me at least, as a litmus test of whether or not Dantonio can get the program close to those heights from that era 20 years ago or not.
Michigan at Illinois, 3:30, ABC. Lines, Michigan -7, O/U 52
I dont have anything new to say that wasnt said in Brian's preview of this game, in the comment thread after that post or anywhere else on the site where the game has been broke down all week.
Two months ago, Illinois was -7 in this game. Now, it's Michigan giving a touchdown. On the road. With two freshmen quarterbacks that have been turnover machines for most of this month. What could go wrong?
Nothing. Michigan is going to run, run, run and then run some more. Look for five carriers to have at least half dozen touches today. It's a testament to just how bad the Illini have been this year that this line has swung a remarkable 14 points in less than 60 days. Seriously, how stoked would you be if you were savvy enough to grab the Wolverines in this one during the summer. Or how grouchy you'd already be about the weekend if you backed the Illini in August.
We're not sure what we have in Michigan, are we? With the narrow loss to Iowa City it looked like the Wolverines were ahead of schedule. But in the beatdown at home to Penn State last week it looked like the destination was as far away as it was last year for Michigan. This tug of war is driving all of us fans up the wall. I've been coping by taking long runs and reading college basketball magazines. But, that's just me.
We are, however, pretty sure what we have in the Illini. And, its not a good football team. They cant score points. They cant stop the run. They're furiously reshuffling their QB position as the Juice Williams era comes crashing and burning to an end. Oh, and Ronn Zook remains there coach. I feel like I say that every week. They have not covered a spread all season. They have not beat a Bowl Subdivision team all season. They've averaged just 11.33 points per game in those contests.
Michigan will have way too much offense in this one. They'll jump out to an early lead and, unlike the Purdue game last season (which I compared this game to on the MGoPodcast), the Wolverines wont let them back in the game. Michigan will look as good in this game as they have all season long.
The Pick: Michigan -7.......I've never been shy about playing the beloved Wolverines. I wont lie, though. I am not to keen on laying this chunk of road chalk with a team playing freshmen QBs who have yet to win on the road. A safer bet might be the Over because if this game does happen to get out of Michigan's control, because you know it wont be because the score is 17-13. Might as well profit on the roller coaster ride.